I appreciate all your kind responses to yesterday’s blog entry. Many of you said you preferred reading about my personal experiences, so today I’ll begin the new year with a story from my teaching days. I’ve changed the name of the child, but all the events are true.
Madelyn F. Young
“Mrs. Young, I don’t feel so good. Do I have to write all this stuff?”
“Yes, of course.” I used my best teacher voice. “If you don’t finish now, you’ll have to do it for homework.”
The child got on my nerves. Larry was a whiner. If he wasn’t complaining with a headache, then he’d fuss about having an upset stomach. Or if he wasn’t showing me a skinned knee, then he’d whimper about a splinter in his hand. We didn’t have a school nurse, so I tried to be patient while tending to his needs, but I determined early in the year not to shower him with sympathy. His parents catered to every complaint. I believed my job was to prod him toward maturity—to help him ignore his little ailments and let unimportant things go by.
I glanced at my watch. “It’s time for recess, children. Please put your things inside your desk, and listen as I call your row.” The students formed a line, and I herded them out the door and down the back walkway to the playground. Breaking ranks at the bottom of the hill, they scattered in all directions. Soon a rousing game of soccer was under way. Larry joined the others, romping up and down the grassy field.
I placed my folding chair in the shade of a large oak. Gentle breezes ruffled the canopy overhead. A pungent odor of wild onions mingled with the sweet smell of honeysuckle, casting its spell. Today I would let the children play a little longer.
On the far side of the playground, a group congregated. One of the boys burst out of the pack and ran toward me.
“Mrs. Young, Mrs. Young, come quick. Larry got hurt.” He paused to catch his breath, then turned and raced back to the huddle. I sighed, stood, and followed him across the field.
“Everyone move back,” I said, pushing my way through the children. On the ground in the center sat Larry with his knee drawn up, examining his injury.
“I got kicked right here,” he said, pointing to a spot midway down his shin. I could see a little redness, but nothing looked serious.
“Can you stand on it?” I lifted him to his feet.
Gingerly, he balanced on both legs. “That hurts,” he said.
“Well, I think you’re going to be okay,” I said. “It’s almost time for us to go in. You can sit over there by me for a few minutes.”
I supported his arm as he hopped off the field. Ten minutes later, I blew my whistle, the students fell into line, and we all tromped up the hill toward the building.
“Larry, you’re going to be fine,” I said as I helped him hobble along.
“It hurts,” he said.
“I know, but you’ll feel better after we get inside. It’s just a little bruise.”
Larry spent the next hour with an ice pack from the cafeteria on his leg, and after the final bell, I watched him board the bus with no problem.
The next morning several children came running to the room. “Mrs. Young, Larry came to school in a taxi. He’s out front.”
I walked down the hall and pushed open the door. There stood Larry, grinning from ear to ear, full cast on his leg, a crutch under each arm. His mother hovered at his side, holding his back pack.
“My goodness.” That was all I could say.
“Hello, Mrs. Young.” Larry’s mother gave me a stern look. “As you can see, we had quite a night. Larry came in complaining about his leg. His dad and I took him to the emergency room, and an X-ray showed a hairline fracture in the fibula.”
“I am so sorry. I had no idea it was broken.” My apology sounded weak. “He was able to walk on it okay, and we put ice on it.”
“That’s what he told us—that you walked him in from the playground.” She frowned. “You should have called me.”
“Well, now I wish I had,” I said. “But Larry seemed to be just fine when he left.”
Still grinning, the child looked up. “We came to school in a cab. Dad took our car out of town this morning, so Mom called a taxi.”
I returned his smile. “I’m sure that was fun. Are you ready to go inside now?”
I held the front door as Larry and his mother made their way into the building. The three of us moved down the empty hall to the classroom. His mother and I helped Larry to his desk. After more words of advice—to him and to me—she left.
“Larry, I’m very sorry you broke your leg,” I told him. “I should have called your mother, but when you complain about little things, it’s hard for me to tell when you’re really hurt. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You’re almost nine now, and you’re a smart fellow. Maybe you and I should have a plan. What do you think?”
“What kind of plan?”
“The next time you have a problem, we can rate it on a scale of one to ten. If it’s something small—like maybe a little scratch—you can tell me it’s a number three thing, and we can decide what to do. If it’s really small—like you bumped your knee—then that would only be a number one, and you wouldn’t need to come to me at all. But if it’s something important—like the big hurt you felt yesterday—then you can tell me this is a number nine or ten. Do you think that would work?”
Larry nodded. “I think so.”
“That would help both of us. I need to know when you’re really hurting, or maybe not hurting so much, so I can do the right thing. Okay?”
“Good.” I patted his hand. “The bell will ring in a minute, and the other children will be coming in. Are you ready to start the day?”
“I guess so. Do you want to sign my cast?”
I laughed. “You bet.” I walked to my desk and picked up my pen. “Maybe I will write a big number ten, draw a smiley face, and sign my name. How about that?”
“Yeah. That would be cool.” Larry stuck out his leg and grinned. “You can put it right there.”